Renewing the Mandate
for Design Excellence in
America's Public Realm
Public Service Design Abroad
A three-day conference organized by the National Endowment for the Arts,
Design Program, with support from the General Services Administration, Public
Buildings Service, the Department of the Interior, National Park Service, and the
Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration.
December 8-10, 1993
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Reprinted from Places, A Forum of Environmental Design
Volume 9, Number 2 • Summer 1994
© 1994 The Design History Foundation
110 Higgins Hall
Pratt Institute School of Architecture
200 Willoughby Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11205
Pride and Stewardship:
Renewing the Mandate
for Design Excellence in
America's Public Realm
The commentaries accompanying this arti-
cle are edited from discussions and presen-
tations that took place during "Public
Sen-ice Design Abroad, " a conference
organized by the Xational Endowment for
the Ans in December, 1993.
Thomas Jefferson's "academical vil-
lage" at the University of Virginia,
with lawn terminated by library and
flanked by single-story dorms.
Courtesy Catholic University of
America, School of Architecture.
Background: L'Enfant's plan for
Washington, D.C., turned the
Baroque style to democratic ends.
Courtesy Catholic University of
America, School of Architecture.
We refer to those who led the American Revolution and helped establish
our country as the Founding Fathers, individuals who hold a unique place
in history because they articulated principles that, even today, are cited as
the groundwork for our democracy and national character. Their legacy
touches on our principles of government, economics and individual free-
dom. Less recognized is their commitment to design excellence, most
notably in the development of key public buildings and spaces.
Sophisticated architecture, landscapes and household objects are often
a sign of personal wealth, power, education and social status; they also
comprise part of our cultural legacy. But when Thomas Jefferson wrote
that "Design activity and political thought are indivisible, "' he seems to
have been arguing that design could be a means of conveying the values
and priorities of a democratic nation. Thus, Jefferson's architecture sought
to put Americans in touch with the ideals of the Enlightenment. His state
capitol in Richmond, Va., for example, borrowed from the elegant propor-
tions and details of the Maison Caree, an ancient Roman temple he had
seen in his travels through southern France.
Jefferson was equally aware that issues beyond style had to be addressed
in the quest for democratic design. This is why his scheme for the Uni-
versity of Virginia is especially significant. A central library (whose profile
was inspired by the Roman Pantheon) is surrounded on each side by a sin-
gle story of colonnaded dorm rooms and five larger pavilions designated
as classrooms and faculty housing. The buildings frame an open, tree-
lined hillside that continues to be used as a magnificent outdoor room for
strolling, recreation, study and contemplation. Jefferson's com-
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(Top row) Oakland federal buildings (National Endowment for
the Arts); Corpus Christi, TX, bus center, tiles made by local
residents (© Project for Public Spaces); Vietnam Veterans
(Second row) Perspective from City Beautiful-era plan for
Chicago (Catholic University of America); Benjamin Franklin
birthplace monument (NEA); Zurich, Switzerland, train station
(Third row) National Gallery East Wing (NEA); Metro Center
Station, Metrorail, Washington, D.C. (Hanan A. Kivett), Statue
of Liberty National Monument poster (NEA).
(Left) Hotakubo Housing, Kumamoto, Japan (Fumihiko Maki).
Charleston, S.C., customs house.
Courtesy Catholic University of
America, School of Architecture.
Romanesque main entrance
of Washington D.C.'s Old Post
Office. Courtesy Todd W. Bressi.
Main court. World's
Chicago, 1893. Courtesy
Catholic University of
America, School of
position, which he called an "academical village," expressed a defiant confidence in the
future of the fledgling country. It seems to have captured important aspects of the
national character — a love for and desire to master open space, a scale that invites
individual exploration, a sense that all are welcome. All this underscores the notion
that in a democracy, quality design is a universal standard that could infuse even the
tiniest hamlet with enduring beauty.
Jefferson's architectural interventions established the fact that good government
could and should be reflected in designs that incorporated pride and democratic values
as well as cost and function as priorities. Styles might vary project to project and from
era to era, but the principle that public servants should be stewards of architectural and
landscape excellence for the benefit of all citizens was clear from the earliest moments
in our history.
Sharing this conviction, George Washington commissioned a plan for the new cap-
ital city, Washington, D.C., in 1791. Pierre L'Enfant's Baroque program cleverly trans-
formed an order associated with royalty and centralized government power into a sym-
bol of democracy. Broad, diagonal boulevards linked the prominent sites selected as
the seats of the three branches of government; they also connected a generous number
of circles and squares designated as public open space for District of Columbia citi-
zens. Washington also endorsed open competitions as a method for soliciting designs
for the White House and Capitol building.
During the nineteenth century, both the country and the federal government were
growing. To facilitate the government's expansion, the stewardship of design was trans-
ferred from the domain of presidential patrons to professionals in the Treasury
Department's Office of the Supervising Architect. New customhouses, post offices and
courthouses became symbols of economic vitality and civic pride in communities, large
and small, in every corner of the country. Often, these were the most prominent struc-
tures in a community and, especially in the west, were intended to reflect the inevitabil-
ity of America's manifest destiny. 2 These commissions received special attention from
Norris Dam, a project of the fed-
Courtesy Todd W. Bressi.
both Congress and local citizens, politicians and the press; people might have disagreed
on details of budget, style and design, but seldom on the need to develop a distin-
guished project. Comments by Acting Mayor John L. Sneed at the cornerstone cere-
monies for the Frankfort, Ky., courthouse and post office in 1884 reflect this senti-
ment. He pointed out how the building would "prove a handsome ornament to the
city," and then noted warmly how the townspeople "fully appreciate and are duly grate-
ful that this evidence of national prosperity has been placed within our limits." 3
Back in Washington, D.C., the litany of nationally significant undertakings was
highlighted by construction of the State, War and Navy Building, the Pension
Building and the Library of Congress. A chaste Neoclassicism was initially the favored
style but, as tastes changed and design matured from a gentlemanly endeavor into a
distinct profession, each supervising architect attempted to provide his own definition
of excellence. A more eclectic collection of profiles and facades, from Second Empire
to Italianate to Romanesque Revival, came to be the norm.
State and local governments were also increasingly active in the arena of public
design. Many impressive state capitols were built during this era, and the architecture
of city halls (Philadelphia's exuberant Second Empire edifice comes to mind) started to
complement federal structures in terms of quality, grandeur and civic pride.
Communities across the country, inspired by the vision and leadership of landscape
architects like Frederick Law Olmsted, either improved or created parks whose pas-
toral designs reflected the long-simmering tensions between the nation's agrarian and
urban roots. Bridges, street lighting, paving projects and millions of dollars of other
infrastructure investments helped reshape muddy towns into modern cities.
By the late 1800s, notions of public design had matured into an American Renais-
sance. The emphasis on single elements was replaced by a holistic view that combined
architecture, landscape, ceremonial streets and neighborhood amenities — much of it
a response to what many people perceived to be the ugly and chaotic results of laissez-
faire urban and industrial growth. The inspiring World's Columbian Exposition, a
temporary yet startlingly elegant "white city" of Classical buildings, parks and prome-
nades became the prototype for other fairs, civic centers and urban planning proposals
developed in the early twentieth century. Elaborate urban designs for Chicago, Wash-
ington, D.C., Cleveland, San Francisco and even Manila (capital of the Philippines, a
U.S. territory after the Spanish-American War) followed. And in 1901 Beaux Arts
design was officially blessed by the supervising architect as a matter of policy:
The Department, after mature consideration of the subject, finally decided to adopt the clas-
sic style of architecture for all buildings as far as it was practical to do so... . The experience of
centuries has demonstrated that no form of architecture is so pleasing to the great mass of
mankind as the classic ... and it is hoped that the present polity may be followed in the future, in
order that the public buildings of the United States may become distinctive in their character.*
World War I, shifts in tastes, changing economic circumstances and a new sense of
social purpose spelled the end of the American Renaissance. During the depression in
Former San Jose post office, now an
art museum, with recent addition at
right. Courtesy Todd W. Bressi.
Illustrative map of
Public Works Administra-
Courtesy Todd W. Bressi.
PWA-era courthouse in Boulder, CO.
Courtesy Todd W. Bressi.
the 1930s, public stewardship of design excellence expanded into a host of new areas.
With hope of reducing unemployment, improving the quality of life in communities
and restoring pride in America, the federal government created an alphabet soup of
innovative (and controversial) New Deal programs — the Public Works Administra-
tion, the Works Progress Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps and the
Federal Arts Project among them. These agencies launched countless projects, from
airstrips, swimming pools and schools to slum clearance, housing, dams, interior
design, graphics, painting and sculpture.
While this dramatic scope of work was subsidized with billions of federal dollars,
most programming and design were turned over to local leadership. This shift encour-
aged stylistic diversity, including experiments with Modernism, and significantly
reduced the supervising architect's influence. New Deal programs presented a unique
opportunity for the federal government to enhance the quality of public design —
from urban planning, architecture and landscape, to interior and graphic design — in
ways that went well beyond the vision of any previous period in our nation's history.
Today, the federal government is the largest consumer of design services in the
United States. But while the demand for public projects has grown, design priorities
and criteria have shifted. Once public agencies sought a reasonable balance among
pride, democratic values, aesthetics, function and cost; now they shortsightedly focus
on function and cost. Even when public agencies contract with designers based on the
quality of their portfolios, projects must be executed within tight, often unrealistic
budgets and at the lowest possible price. Agency heads know what happens when they
make exceptions to the minimum-cost rule and are scrutinized by the media and
ultra-sensitive taxpayers. 5
Regaining Confidence in Public Service Design
A conference about design as a public
service carries with it an assumption
that the public sector has value. It also
assumes government has a responsibili-
ty for the welfare of its citizens and can
improve their circumstances.
However, in a democratic society,
government cannot function without
general agreement about the legitima-
cy of its actions, especially if it is to act
as a patron of design. In a society beset
by increasing tribalization, such consen-
sus is difficult to achieve. Rather than
becoming a global village, we have
become segregated into various cultur-
al components, each of which seeks
legitimization of its own point of view
at the expense of all others. We are no
longer required to interact with others
simply because they are fellow citizens.
In Europe cities are taken seriously
as an integral part of a nation's self
image. In America, we can find no com-
parable optimism; the word "urban"
has become code for social unrest and
disorder. Similarly, "public" is a pejora-
tive — public schools, public housing
and public transportation are all regard-
ed as inferior to those in private hands.
This is coupled with a recurring cyn-
icism about government and its ability
to solve problems and deliver services.
The voting majority assumes projects
sponsored by government are inherent-
ly wasteful and inferior to what can be
accomplished by the private sector. Gov-
ernment is often perceived as a police
force, not as an agent of change.
Added to this is the emphasis televi-
sion places upon product, distorting the
purpose of professional life. It is now
assumed designers make products
whose primary significance lies in their
value as determined by the market-
place. Brand name recognition, a con-
cept first applied to consumer products,
is now sought by design professionals.
Sir Richard Rogers spoke scathingly
about the architecture of the market-
place, denouncing the mindset that
regards a building solely as profit-mak-
ing devices, conceived to last for 20
years and then be replaced. That mind-
set is completely inconsistent with the .
idea of public places: Government is
badly represented by structures made
by a disposable culture.
Against this complex and negative
background, the conference considered
an astonishing range of activities.
Architecture, planning, art history, pub-
lic art, advanced technology, trans-
portation, environmental issues, graph-
ic design, restoration and real estate
development were all discussed. And in
all of these presentations it was
assumed that public meant good.
In fairness it should be noted that
government in the U.S. can mean good.
Distinguished restoration efforts
remind us of the splendid buildings that
have been built by our government in
earlier times. Unfortunately, we get
somewhat sentimental about how suc-
cessful our restoration of these build-
ings has been, failing to note that if we
took better care of our buildings,
restoration wouldn't be necessary in
A positive recent development is
the use of public-private partnerships to
solve problems. By building consensus,
creating new alliances among different
groups and tapping different sources of
funding, these partnerships have real-
ized projects that the public and private
sector have lacked the financial muscle
or leadership to achieve by themselves.
Such approaches can expedite results
and achieve quality more surely than
conventional systems of management.
Our society must identify a common
purpose so that the patient, civilizing
work of building confidence in the pub-
lic realm can begin. While the grand
dreams and visions of the fifties and six-
ties now seem sentimental and misguid-
ed, it is not sufficient to say a larger,
more generous idea of society is impos-
sible for this generation.
Our great resources of wealth and
talent can be used to construct a new
definition of the public sector, one that
enhances our common experience and
provides the leadership now irrationally
expected from democratic ideals. We
must recognize that we have a common
destiny, sharing interests the economic,
cultural and social future of America.
Nowhere is this more evident in the
architecture of the public realm.
— Hugh Hardy
Atrium, Los Angeles Central Library
renovation and expansion.
Courtesy Hardy Holzman Pfieffer.
Pyramid atop underground addition to the Louvre, Paris. Courtesy Todd W. Bressi.
Design in the total context is one of the
most strategic economic tools a country
has. Those countries that have recog-
nized this have done very well by it.
Look at what the Japanese and Germans
did in the automotive industry during
the 1970s and 1980s. They captured
large shares of markets worldwide.
How? They did it by design, absolutely.
We see European and now Japanese
railroad companies today offering solu-
tions to the U.S. by design. We see J.C.
Decaux tackling an area of great con-
cern, and again it's through design. If
there's anything that designers in this
country should be concerned about, it is
why we haven't maximized our design
potential in this country. We have excel-
lent design capacities but have not fully
— Robert Blaich
Ellis Island Main Hall.
The entrance canopy
was added during the
for the Arts.
In truth, Americans have always been healthily skeptical about government power
and spending. But today, we seem to have litde understanding of the value and mean-
ing of investing in the public realm. The importance that post-war development pat-
terns, both suburban and urban, place on the private realm is the clearest evidence of
our abandonment of public places. Increasingly, Americans are moving to places where
the streets, infrastructure and open spaces that once bound us together are under pri-
vate control — in some communities, even city hall is moving to the shopping mall.
This has not only had profound consequences for our landscape but also weakened
support for attentive, meaningful design in what remains of the public realm.
Not everybody has given up. In several European countries and Japan, quality
design in the public realm appears to be the norm. Last December, to explore why this
is the case, the National Endowment for the Arts convened a symposium, "Public
Service Design Abroad." 6 U.S. public officials and designers listened to the experi-
ences and saw the results affected by their international colleagues. The three days of
presentations and discussion pointed towards several lessons for renewing the
American commitment to public design excellence.
Lesson One: Recognize that Quality Makes a Difference
The voices at the forum were quite diverse. Speakers came from France, Japan, the
Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and other countries. They included business execu-
tives, government officials and designers. And they shared thoughts not only on archi-
tecture, planning and urban design but also on graphic and industrial design —
reminding us of the wide range of disciplines that shape our public environment.
One maxim was repeated again and again: The quality of public design can make a
tremendous difference. Good design can enhance the presence of the public realm and
the value people place on it. It can encourage citizens to nurture their involvement in
society — to become active not only in public places but also in art, culture and politics.
The speakers illuminated many cases in which design has been integral to the success
of public places. Raymond Turner, the British Airport Authority's design director,
described how London Transport's carefully planned and executed design program
(which touched everything from stations to vehicles to uniforms to posters) sustained the
transit system's identity, respect and popularity for much of the twentieth century. Josep
Acebillo, planner and architect for Barcelona, emphasized that public investment in
infrastructure like parks, plazas, highways and communication networks can be a catalyst
for private investment and universal pride. Jacques Cabineau explained how the French
policy of staging design competitions for public projects has resulted in better architec-
ture because the program and goals for a building are more thoroughly researched
before design begins and because a broader range of talent has access to commissions.
Clearly the public benefits when government — at the national, regional and local
levels — explicitly promotes design excellence. In the U.S., government has a uniquely
wide range of opportunities to do this — there are myriad agencies at the national,
regional and local levels that either develop projects on their own or fund projects
sponsored by others. The case studies from abroad indicate that it is still possible for
government to exploit design as a way to instill pride, improve the level of public ser-
vice and deepen the appreciation of the public environment.
Seville's train terminal is a
striking example of the use of
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and space. Courtesy Ortiz and
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design of federal buildings.
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What would happen if we had a day
without design? How many of us think
about design as an integral part of our
life or as a convenient part of our life?
If we could raise the public's conscious-
ness about design, whether as profes-
sionals or as individuals, or whether
government takes responsibility for
conveying the message, that might help
build a cohesive design culture.
— Alan Brangman
Public Design, Public Education
(Below) Street signs in New York
City not only identify historic dis-
tricts but also help build a con-
stituency for historic preservation.
Courtesy Todd W. Bressi.
(Right) The Environmental
Simulation Center in New York City
enables citizens and planners to
explore alternate scenarios for archi-
tectural, planning and urban design
proposals. Courtesy Regional Plan
Q.: In the U.S. there are few places
where the average person can get
information regarding public projects.
Can't we disseminate more information
about specific buildings as they are
going up and when they're completed?
Joan Goody: Using construction
fencing as a series of changing exhibits
would be an excellent, informative
way to inform passersby about the his-
tory of a building and what was being
done at the time. This could be written
into the contract of every government
project, that there will be money for
some sort of elaboration presented on
the construction fencing and some sort
of exhibit when the project is over.
Architects love to show off, and you can
get them to do that pretty cheerfully.
Donlyn Lyndon: One point at which
people do become interested in archi-
tecture is when a project is about to
appear on their doorstep. If every pro-
ject that the federal government spon-
sored could have within it a require-
ment that there be some piece of infor-
mational, educational prepared is
placed on public display, that would
reach a lot of people.
Beyond that, I think we tend to look
at public reviews and workshops as
troublesome processes that we have to
get through. I would urge that we
begin to look at those processes as
opportunities to build a level of under-
standing about what's going to hap-
pen. Often when a group that is
opposed to a proposal comes to a meet-
ing, its members are not ready to listen
to the other side. With patience, you'll
find that a public body that is hearing
arguments and can be changed in the
way it thinks about a project. All of that
public interaction, all of that discussion
generated by freedom of speech, helps
us learn more from each other.
Roger K. Lewis: One practice that
has been fairly successful in the suburbs
and exurbs is the charrettes that Andres
Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk have
led. They are architects, but they mainly
plan towns and subdivisions. Their
mode of operation is to organize multi-
day workshops and, very intentionally,
to invite the participation of anybody
and everybody who might have an
interest or concern with the fate of a
particular piece of land. This not only
produces a plan but also is a process of
enlightenment and education. When
the plan is put up on the wall every-
body can look at it and feel a little bit
Sir Richard Rogers: Government
should set an example not only by com-
missioning public buildings but also by
increasing an awareness of architectural
culture among all age groups. All cities
and regions should have a forum where
members of the public can make their
opinions clear to architects and to the
government. This should be addressed
in education and school curricula — not
that there should be a subject called
architecture, but curricula should
informed by interrelated subjects like
geography, history, technology and art.
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Lesson Two: Establish Leadership and Build a Design Constituency
Two complements to developing a rationale for design quality are establishing leader-
ship and a building constituency for outstanding public design. This can involve not
only government officials but also designers and individual citizens who have a variety
of options for influencing design.
Innovative leadership can emerge from many quarters. Sometimes it clearly rests in
the hands of an individual. The Kumamoto, Japan, "Art Polis" program, in which
leading architects from around the world are being commissioned to design some 50
public facilities, was launched by the prefecture's former governor, Morihio Hosokawa.
In The Netherlands, the design of many government projects is overseen by an
appointed state architect; Barcelona's remarkable transformation in the last decade was
orchestrated by Acebillo and city architect Oriel Bohigas.
In Europe, government agencies and public service corporations often take the lead
in sponsoring extraordinary design. The Dutch Postal, Telegraph and Telephone
(PTT) system uses design to communicate its cutting edge position in the communica-
tions market. Its facilities are as inviting as they are efficient. Its presence in the com-
munity in the form of postboxes, public telephones and vehicles has been developed to
improve the streetscape and reduce clutter. Its general commitment to quality in
everything from forms to uniforms, from high-tech equipment to artwork, speaks
about a successful, people-oriented, can-do attitude that helped PTT make the transi-
tion from a government agency to a profit-making private organization.
Even with aggressive leadership, quality public design flourishes best when there is
a public that demands and appreciates it. The French competition system has stimulat-
ed a lively debate concerning public architecture. Moreover, it has become the norm
to have cities and towns graced with the most innovative and extraordinary public
structures. British architect Sir Richard Rogers, a designer of the Centre Georges
Pompidou, commented that "culture is the fourth strongest vote getter in France,
where design is simply part of the political discussion." 7 (One could imagine Rogers
wished there was a similar kind of enthusiasm in England.)
In France, there really is a cultural vote.
President Francois Mitterand, in a pri-
vate conversation, once said to me,
"You have to remember, Mr. Rogers,
that culture is the fourth biggest vote
getter. " I've been trying to figure out
what the other three are ever since!
Until we make architecture a vote get-
ter or a critical part of the political dis-
cussion, then it will be very difficult to
put architecture where it should be.
When I say architecture, I mean the
built environment, but it can also be
the green environment.
— Sir Richard Rogers
(Above) Logo for The Nethe-
rlands Postal and Telecommuni-
cations Services; PTT postbox.
(Left) Paris' Pompidou Center
was a presidentially-sponsored
project whose design was chosen
through a competition. Photo by
Martin Charles, courtesy Richard
The Keeper of the Street
Street furniture is now considered to
enhance the streetscape, and advertis-
ing is no longer perceived as a visual
pollution, but more as a factor that can
enliven the streetscape. Our company's
philosophy is based on two main ele-
ments. The first is to invest in good
design by working with the top archi-
tects and designers in the world. The
second is to invest in maintenance,
which is the key element to the success
of any street furniture program.
We hope San Francisco will be the
first U.S. city to have our street furni-
ture, including automatic public toilets
that will be accessible to everyone, even
those with disabilities. We would like to
have newsstands and integrate in those
public service kiosks some interactive
video systems where people on the
street will be able to make transactions,
such as buying tickets to see the Giants
or paying parking fines.
One of our major goals is to help
reduce street clutter — for example,
news racks, those little boxes that are
placed at intersections. In San Francisco I
counted 23 boxes lined up at one inter-
section. The First Amendment is a good
one, but it makes it impossible for cities
to get rid of these boxes. The solution is
to have them integrated in the vertical
kiosk like a soda vending machine.
Most people in the cities where we
work today have the impression that
there is no vandalism because they
never see a bus shelter or kiosk that is
broken. There is a lot of vandalism, but
we repair it so often that people don't
notice. Our experience is that when you
clean the equipment often, and don't
let the glass panels remain broken for
more than 24 hours, the rate of vandal-
ism goes down.
Every piece of street furniture is
checked every day, and we clean each
piece at least once a week. In
Amsterdam, we have graffiti busters,
people on motorbikes who can remove
graffiti more or less immediately. We
also developed a "pooper scooter,"
which can collect dog pollution on any
sidewalk, grass, in public parks. In Paris
we collect 3.5 tons of dog pollution
every day with 120 bikes.
Street furniture wouldn't work if
there weren't a maintenance service to
take care of it. If a nice piece of design
is being vandalized, then it's even
worse than having bad design.
— Jean-Franqois Decaux
Le Fresnoy media school, Tourcoing,
France. Attic space used for work-
shops and informal screenings and
presentations. Courtesy Bernard
Pare de la Villette's design involves
systems of movements and activity
nodes that interact on several scales.
Courtesy Todd W. Bressi.
Can this type of leadership emerge in the U.S. government? In small ways it is
beginning to appear. The architecture division of the federal government's General
Services Administration, for instance, has devised a new process for selecting profes-
sionals that rewards design ability rather than technical criteria, and other agencies are
using charrettes and competitions to search for the best possible design ideas. The
National Park Service has been noted not only for its architectural and landscape
design but also for engineering and graphic design. And Amtrak (a government-spon-
sored corporation) is completing a sensitive restoration of historic train stations on its
Northeast Corridor line.
At a grassroots level, countless groups across the country are espousing the virtues
of historic preservation, river and creek restoration, neighborhood improvement, park
development and other causes that highlight the importance of design. Such efforts
have helped assure the passage of legislation and programs concerning environmental
protection, historic preservation and community revitalization — and in turn these
efforts have been boosted by federal support.
Perhaps these separate enterprises can be woven into a broader constituency, a
crescendo of voices that includes community leaders, consumers, business executives,
builders, manufacturers, bureaucrats and design professionals. Together, these groups
can insist on an agenda addressing design excellence that spans large-scale federal ini-
tiatives to the tiniest neighborhood pocket park.
Lesson Three: Initiate Activity at Many Scales
What is remarkable about public service design is the wide range of scales at which it
can occur: national monuments, city landmarks, neighborhood improvements, infras-
tructure networks and more. Each establishes a public presence in its own way, and
each poses its own challenge for design creativity. Public agencies should be aware of
and attentive to this full range of opportunities and responsibilities.
There is certainly a place for what the French call grands projets — the Louvre addi-
tion and other endeavors that gain international attention. They can transform the
dynamics of a city, as Bernard Tschumi's Pare de la Villette has in a formerly industrial
section of Paris. And they can provide a sense of pride and identity, as did Kumamoto's
Art Polis project and the improvements made for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.
On the other hand, giving equal attention to less glamorous things — local muse-
ums and exhibits, neighborhood schools, bus stations, the graphic identity of a small
town, pocket parks, street furniture — is equally important. Barcelona spent the
decade before the Olympics reinforcing its historic fabric by creating scores of catalyt-
ic public spaces. In Paris, competitions are staged for housing projects and innovative
"industrial hotels" on infill sites. Santiago Calatrava, famous for the way he melds
architecture, art and engineering in bridge design, has lavished his talent on bus shel-
ters, canopies, warehouses, balconies and other small-scale projects.
At a grander scale, public design can create a cohesive image across the diverse
regions of a country. During the nineteenth century, courthouses and customhouses
Every project that government at any
level undertakes should see itself as link-
ing to a larger pattern, improving that
pattern and helping inject life into it.
This strategy can be embedded in pro-
jects of the smallest scale and still have
consequence. We see this obviously in
the Barcelona examples; it also seems to
be true of Pare de la Villette, where
small actions configured within a larger
picture inject energy into that place.
— Donlyn Lyndon
(Above left) Standard transporta-
tion symbols developed by the
U.S. Department of Transportation
and the American Institute of
Graphic Arts in the 1970s.
(Above) Restoration of historic
streetlight near Gaudi's Cathe-
dral Sagrada Familia, Barcelona.
Courtesy the city of Barcelona.
(Left) Santiago Calatrava's com-
munications tower for the 1992
Olympics, Barcelona. Courtesy the
city of Barcelona.
Putting Preservation in Perspective
Q.: What strikes me is the way European
architects relate to their historic archi-
tecture. It seems they see architecture as
an evolving process, part of life begin-
ning in the past and continuing today.
Therefore, they use old buildings as a
foundation upon which to build some-
thing new, rather than something to
protect to the point where any and all
retrofitting is discouraged.
Washington D.C. is a good example
of the latter situation — if we're going
to move ahead in doing excellent
design work here, we need to look at
the extent to which we are hampered
by a paradigm of historic preservation,
which does not allow progression.
Roger K. Lewis: I've concluded that
here in Washington, at least, we're in a
period during which people are very
concerned about our architectural lega-
cy, young though it is. They are con-
cerned not only because that legacy
might be threatened today or next
week, but also because of what might
happen fifty or a hundred years from
now. I think the preservation move-
ment has its zealots, who are not
always confronted. But at the same
time there have been extraordinary
abuses, and certainly in this city there
were egregious abuses. There was a
period when people were seriously talk-
ing about taking down the old
Executive Office Building and getting
rid of the Old Post Office.
Joan Goody: Do you think some of
the preservation movement is a sign of
a disappointment in the contemporary
architecture that we produced in the
1950s and 1960s? It's interesting that
France produced as much terrible archi-
tecture as we did in that period, by
some admission it is even worse. While
we retreated, their solution was to turn
to competitions to try to get better con-
temporary designs. Certainly what we
saw is far more daring than most of our
public or private sector design.
Steven M. Davis: The reaction has
been like a pendulum that has over-
swung. We don't have the legacy that
Europe has; we don't have a thousand
years of fabulous building and construc-
tion tradition to build on. More and
more projects are going to position
restoration in a more balanced perspec-
tive, having to do with the need to ren-
ovate those 1950s and 1960s buildings
that are no longer doing their job. I
spend most of my life right now trying
to figure out what to do with the
World Trade Center and its plaza, which
are only 23 years old.
established a federal presence throughout the United States. Today, transportation
projects can accomplish this. The Swiss, for instance, devote a great deal of energy to
road and signage design, studying problems from aesthetic, safety and environmental
perspectives as they strive to create approaches that are locally sensitive while main-
taining a national image of impeccable engineering. Postal agencies, the most ubiqui-
tous public service, can pull the country together through the design of graphics, cus-
tomer service and processing facilities, vehicles and, of course, mailboxes and stamps.
Lesson Four: Today's Challenges are Similar to and Different from Yesterday's
A theme that helped unify the symposium presentations was tradition. Some speakers
noted that their countries' current commitment to quality design grows out of a deep
cultural tradition. Kees Rijnboutt, The Netherlands' chief architect, and R. D. E.
Oxenaar, his colleague from the Postal, Telegraph and Telephone system, tied recent
developments in Dutch design to the Renaissance and the early twentieth century de
Stijl movement. In France, the similarity between the grands projets and the pride that
built the chateaux is evident. Barcelona's urban awakening and its celebration of the
1992 Olympic games is the latest release of generations of Catalan creativity and energy.
But if looking to the past provides useful precedents and a foundation for future
work, another message was that tradition should also provide the confidence to explore
new directions. The success of projects like the dramatic bridges and kinetic buildings by
Santiago Calatrava and the visionary Pare de la Villette validate the importance of taking
risks and encouraging innovation in the realm of public design.
It will be important to mesh future design directions with the new challenges pub-
lic projects face. We now demand much greater sensitivity to environmental and his-
toric resources; should we also seek design that is reflective of (or created by) a wider
segment of our diverse population? We are concerned about using design to advance
improvements in economic and social conditions; how can this be meshed with aes-
thetic considerations? We also require much more citizen involvement in reviewing
designs (a factor that figured in the abandonment of Tschumi's la Villette-like plans for
a park in Queens, New York); to what extent should public service design also involve
public education about design and about the broader physical environment?
Proposal for rebuilding Flushing
Meadows-Corona Park, commissioned
by New York City's parks depart-
ment, was subject to exhaustive
public review and ultimately did not
win political support.
Courtesy Bernard Tschumi Associates.
Pare de la Villette is 125 acres and cost
nearly $200 million. To hold together
this energy, there must be somebody —
a civil servant, politician or bureaucrat
— with the authority to carry such a
project to the end. In France, such peo-
ple have the authority to determine a
course of action without necessarily hav-
ing to ask the opinion of 25 committees
and local resident groups. This is a very
tricky balance between democracy and
authority; in America it would often be
I was involved with a large park in
New York City, Flushing Meadows Cor-
ona Park. By the time we had developed
a proposal, we had to appear in front of
more than twenty committees. Each was
not coordinated with the others, none
had any political force or mandate to try
to bring these groups together. It is, of
course, very difficult to arrive at good
design with this lack of focus.
— Bernard Tschumi
Proposal to convert Manhattan's for-
mer General Post Office into a new
Amtrak terminal has interested peo-
ple who still recall the grandeur of
McKim, Mead and White's Pennsyl-
vania Station, demolished in the '60s.
Courtesy Hellmuth, Obata, Kassabaum.
Each year I teach an architecture studio
that is made up of some of the most
talented young people from around the
world. Many of the foreign students,
who are the top of their respective
classes from wherever they might have
come, plan to go back and work in gov-
ernment offices — for the city, the tran-
sit department, the PTT, or some other
agency. They see excitement, innova-
tion and possibility in the public sector
there. Unfortunately, not many
American students come to Harvard
with the idea that when they graduate
they are going to go get a job at their
local redevelopment authority.
— David Lee
Similarly, there are new actors in design. One of the most promising directions is
the creation of public-private partnerships, which have operated on many scales. They
offer the promise of working more flexibly than traditional government agencies; in
their financing and decision-making they often can take greater risks. But they also
can blur the line between public and private, confusing citizens about their stake in the
public realm. Privatization of government building construction or of the maintenance
of our streets might produce effective, assured results, but it risks further undermining
our confidence in the capacity of the public sector.
America's challenge is restoring its healthy skepticism of government while shed-
ding its cynicism about the public realm. We must recall our government's past sup-
port of excellence in design, build a constituency for continuing this legacy and seek
out leaders that support it. As this framework develops, we will be able to inaugurate a
diversity of initiatives confronting the challenges of our cities and our suburbs, of new
information and communications technologies, and of complex environmental prob-
lems. Some of these efforts will be funded and developed at the federal level. Others
will receive federal support but be worked out under regional and local jurisdictions.
Still others will emerge entirely from local mandates for excellence.
These contributions may be different from those promoted by the Founding
Fathers, the Office of the Supervising Architect, the talents that emerged during the
Beaux Arts Renaissance and the depression-era federal efforts involved with design.
Nevertheless, they can suggest the pluralism of American democracy, foster a sense of
pride and stewardship in the public realm and in public service, encourage human
interaction, and reflect a balance aesthetically between tradition and innovation. If we
look carefully enough, they will offer us the first glimpse of a new design tradition.
1. Thomas Jefferson, as quoted in Benjamin Forgey, "The Jeffersonian Approach," The Washington
Post, 19 December 1993, p. G2.
2. It is telling, for instance, that the customhouse and post office in Portland, Oregon, was begun in
1869 before that city of 9,000 people even had a railroad or paved streets. See Lois Craig, et al., The
Federal Presence: Architecture, Politics and Symbols in United States Government Building (Cambridge,
MA: MIT Press, 1978), 122.
3. John L. Sneed, Kentucky Yeoman, 5 February 1884, as quoted in Craig, 167.
4. Report of the Supervising Architect of the Treasury, 1901, as quoted in Craig, 236.
5. For example, the Federal Triangle project (previously known as the International Cultural and
Trade Center) in Washington, D.C., has been roundly criticized as the costs have almost doubled
from $362 million to $656 million. See Kirstin Downey Grimsley, "Federal Triangle's Points of
Contention; Delays, Rising Costs, Changing Concepts Beset Project," The Washington Post (5
December 1993), p. Al.
6. "Public Service Design Abroad" ran from 8-10 December 1993 in Washington, D.C. It was spon-
sored by the National Endowment for the Arts, Design Program, with support from the General
Services Administration, Public Buildings Service, the Department of the Interior, National Park
Service, and the Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration.
7. Sir Richard Rogers, remarks at the Public Service Design Abroad conference, 10 December 1993.
1. "Unigrid" used for National Park Service
graphics and publications.
2. Linn Cove Viaduct, Blue Ridge Parkway.
3. Day care center in Social Security
Administration building, Baltimore.
4. 5. Proposed Southpoint Pavilion, Roose-
velt Island, New York City. Design by Santi-
ago Calatrava Vails • MitchellVGiurgola.
(Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation)
6. Stone griffin sculpture, part of a seven-
mile project along I-476 in Radnor, PA. Photo
by William Reimann. (Townscape Institute)
7. Pershing Park, Washington, D.C. Photo by
Carol M. Highsmith. (Pennsylvania Avenue
Photos courtesy National Endowment for
the Arts unless indicated otherwise.